JERUSALEM, April 14 (JTA) Ever since I can remembering registering my first political thought, I’ve considered myself a proud lefty. As my college career progressed, my left-wing political slant became more pronounced, and I often could be found preaching about the beauty of state-subsidized health care or the pitfalls of rampant consumerism. When I graduated and moved to New York City, my near-socialist values found a happy home at an ultra-liberal Jewish non-profit organization. We raised money for such causes as a living wage bill, equal education for minorities and inner-city community organizing projects. The left was my passion, as proven by the Mother Jones and Adbusters Magazines that lined my bathroom book rack. Since moving to Israel, however a strange transformation has occurred: I now find myself as far to the right in Israeli politics as I was to the left in the American arena. Evacuate Gaza? It’s as much part of the Land of Israel as Tel Aviv! Give the West Bank over to terrorists? Are you kidding? Look at what’s happened to the guns that we gave after Oslo! Recently my political stance has flipped so far to the right that I had to look in the mirror and ask myself, “What happened to your die-hard love for the left?” The funny thing is that I don’t feel like I’ve gone through some kind of political metamorphosis. I still take the same stance about those American liberal issues that I worked for in New York. It’s not so much that I’ve changed, but the issues around me have all changed: Israel is a different political landscape, and the issues here have taken my politics in a new direction. The difference is simple. In the United States, the left and the right are divided by money matters. Here the left and right are divided on matters of the heart. Considering current events, every political stance in Israel seems to revolve around the military. What should be done with terrorists, what should the military be doing in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Should we be sending 18-year-old soldiers to fight and protect the people that live there? Is that land even really considered Israel? Aren’t Palestinian leaders the same people who are working to kill babies on buses as if they were soldiers? These issues tend to pull at my heart strings more than a living wage bill ever did. American issues never hit so close to home. Having grown up in the palm tree- and BMW-lined suburbs of Ft. Lauderdale, I never had to worry about education or financial issues. The inequity and injustice that I felt about big business and fast-food chains was always external. But the issues here are not only closer to home, they literally affect me every day. Every day Israel is fighting for its very existence. And as a resident of Jerusalem and a bus rider, I pray every day that I and my friends and my people don’t get caught in the crossfire of this battle. My curiosity and desire for truth inspired me to travel to places where the lines in the sand are clearly drawn between right and the left, such as Gaza and Hebron, Beit El which sits next to Ramallah and Shavei Shomron, next to the terrorist hotbed of Tulkarm. Beside my day-to-day experiences in Jerusalem, my travels have shown me a reality that slowly nudged my political pendulum more and more to the right. My most recent trip was to Kfar Darom, a settlement in the heart of the Gaza Strip. The rolling green hills of farmland that led to the border of the strip came to a halt as soon as we reached the gate. The landscape quickly changed to barren sand dunes, haphazardly built Arab villages and army vehicles. The bulletproof bus pulled into a break between the giant cement walls that surround the settlement as if it were a military outpost. Inside those cold concrete walls was a tropical paradise that reminded me of my South Florida childhood, with palm trees and the smell of salt in the air. The residents where watching their children play in the yard, cooking dinner and doing other normal suburbanites activities such as taking out the trash. Shots rang out in the distance from time to time, but no one seemed worried, not even the children: They kept pedaling their bikes down the street as if nothing had happened. Everyone that I met seemed calm, relaxed and normal, not bitter or hateful or extreme as the dreaded settlers are portrayed. There was no talk of shipping out or destroying all the Arabs, as I had expected. Yes, there certainly was dismay and anger toward the terrorists who constantly tried to attack their settlement, and who sometimes succeeded. But the residents were much more excited about celebrating the birth of a new boy than talking about the rockets that have crashed on their roofs. A family that came from Ethiopia 13 years ago told me how blessed they felt to have their first house in Israel, considering the financial and cultural difficulties they had faced along the way. There was joy and peace inside their walls, not hatred or anger, despite the war going on outside. It wasn’t hard to pick out the victims of terrorism in the community. There was the a 9-year-old boy who rolled down the street in a wheelchair, one leg missing. Three years ago his school bus was blow up by terrorists, killing and maiming the children aboard. I saw another person in a wheelchair, this time a woman: Her car was shot at by a terrorist while she and her husband were heading out of Gaza one evening to get groceries. Now her family is moving to a more handicapped-friendly house, and she just gave birth to another child. Looking at these people, I wondered how Prime Minister Ariel Sharon could consider a plan that would reward those intentionally trying to kill children riding to school on a bus, or shoot an innocent couple driving their car. I asked one of the mothers if she worried about her children living so close to Arabs on the attack. “Jerusalem is better, with all the buses blowing up?” she asked. One thing has become clear during my travels: Sitting in Gaza or Hebron is really no different than sitting in an office building in Tel Aviv. The war is aimed at all the Jews in Israel; those in the settlements just happen to be on the front lines. The truth is that simply just living in Israel has changed my outlook in many ways, not only politically. But in my core I am still being driven by the same heart. Deep inside I feel this burning desire to support what is ethical and what is true. I see oppressed Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and blame their terrorist leaders, not Israel. I hear the left crying out “Peace Now,” but I want real peace, not momentary quiet followed by larger-scale attacks. It seems clear in my mind that the right better understands the type of evil that Israel is facing today, and how to deal with it, despite the painful reality of war. As long as the issues keep changing, I couldn’t care less which side of the fence I’m sitting. I only hope that I’ll judge them in the most objective and educated way possible, and that my heart and head will be pointed in the right, correct, direction.
Oleh turns to the right